Christina Wulf serves as coordinator of outreach and fundraising for Virginia Forest Watch, a grassroots, non-profit coalition dedicated to maintaining and restoring the natural ecology and biodiversity of forestlands across Virginia through education and citizen participation.
Working for the Forests
On private forest land, Virginia Forest Watch’s work ranges from creating events that showcase sustainable logging practices to reporting logging jobs to the Virginia Department of Forestry to ensure that streams are protected from pollution.
On public forest land, the VAFW monitors U.S. Forest Service logging projects, educates the public, fights to create wilderness, protects roadless areas by supporting former President Clinton’s Roadless Area Rule and advocates to end the commercial logging program on National Forests.
We all learn at a young age that trees breathe in carbon dioxide and breathe out oxygen, while humans do just the reverse. So right from the start, we know that humans have an intimate, reciprocal relationship with trees and other green and growing things.
What else? Along with oxygen, water is another obvious requirement for our lives. The woven web of trees we call a forest is a natural water filter – cleaning groundwater and drinking water for us, holding back floodwaters and preventing erosion and landslides when rains fall fast and heavy. If you live along the Blue Ridge or Allegheny Mountains, your town or city’s drinking water reservoir is very likely surrounded by forest to lower costs of water filtration and treatment.
Essential and Diverse
Forests are production centers for soil, and havens for plants, fungi and a gorgeous diversity of critters. As long as they are not cut down and hauled away, trees eventually die and rot on the forest floor, turning back into soil.
Our forests are natural laboratories. According to the Ecological Society of America, “Nine of the top 10 drugs originate from natural plant products.” Wild, native forests are havens for endangered, threatened and sensitive species which can survive nowhere else.
In 1997, a group of 13 scientists and economists published a paper in the journal Nature in which they estimated the value of the many services nature provides globally – at between $16 and $54 trillion per year.
Life Without Trees?
Not so long ago, Virginia’s mountains were mostly cleared, both for agriculture and for the profit of timber barons. The photographs of our mountains in the early 1900s tell a shocking story: a vast expanse of stumps blackened by wildfires; mountainsides slumping into the valleys without trees to hold the soil; rivers and streams displaced by silt and flooding valley farms.
Such a doomsday scenario seems impossible today, yet in parts of the Blue Ridge, trees are dying at higher elevations in huge swaths. The culprit is air pollution from coal burned for electricity and gasoline burned in our cars. The price of these fossil-fueled conveniences is much too high: mountaintop removal coal mining is flattening mountains and filling valleys right here in the central Appalachians; polluted air causes asthma in our children and kills our forests; many trout streams are too acidic to support life.
Imagine today’s world without intact forests. Drinking water reservoirs would fill up rapidly with sediment. Local climate would heat up, and fires would threaten innumerable communities. Tourism? Ha! Who visits a place to see stumps and landslides? Not much fun hiking a barren mountain or swimming in a silt-laden stream. Fishing? Nope, sediment and acidification kill off sport species. Hunting? Of what? Bird watching? Where?
The forests are the heart of our lives in the Blue Ridge. Forests stabilize our mountainsides and our economies. The quality of life in this region depends heavily on healthy, natural forests.
VAFW’s work is to communicate how essential our forests are, and open peoples’ eyes to the possibilities. Cleaner sources of energy, cleaner transportation, lighter-on-the-land methods of harvesting trees, easements and tax incentives to encourage landowners to keep forests intact, good legislation that takes the commercial incentive out of logging the people’s national forests – we have more options than we know.